These are the drugs that got us through 2021

Prescription or not, these are the substances that helped us cope during a treacherous year

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We all found ways to cope with the tumult of a year that brought us everything from a coup attempt to racist violence, all against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic. We channeled existential dread outward into past times like plant parenthood and TikTok, and/or turned inward under the guidance of a therapist.

But many of us needed to directly alter our brain chemistry to find relief, whether through tripping on shrooms or starting on antidepressants. We spoke to 7 people about the drugs that helped them survive the dumpster fire of 2021.

*Some names changed to protect those worried about professional repercussions or stigma


Theresa, 36, Virginia

In my current job, I’m very connected to the news cycle, a huge source of anxiety for people. The advice you get from therapists is to just turn away. But I don’t have that option. That’s my livelihood.

The first time I tripped on shrooms this year, I found myself thinking about climate change and the fact that everything I saw would someday end. But I also felt this intense, throbbing beauty and wonder at the world as it was. I think being able to accept that those two things exist simultaneously is a big part of managing anxiety. It’s not “fight the thing” or “be in conflict with the thing,” but really radically accept your circumstances.

Luna, 21, Miami, FL

I’m trans nonbinary, Black, lesbian, immigrant, and neurodivergent. Living at the intersection of these identities is grueling. Everywhere I look, I’m reminded that my life is disposable. It’s hard not to internalize feelings of worthlessness. I couldn’t turn on the news or go on social media without finding out that yet another person who looked like me had been killed. When you factor in the isolation brought on by the pandemic, taking Lexapro — an antidepressant I was prescribed this year — became necessary if I was going to continue living.

My therapist convinced me to give my body time to adjust. In the end, she was right. It helped muffle the intensity of my depression.

Luna, 21, Miami

Eric, 35, Oakland, CA

My anxiety this year was definitely caused by the pandemic — directly through things being closed, not being able to socialize, etc., and indirectly through changes at my company, made worse by having to work remotely.

I was in a terrible mood and super anxious for a solid two weeks. I started looking into therapy, got some books, but in the end realized a quick change of pace might be a good plan ... Microdosing helped by both lifting my mood and making me a little more empathetic toward the people around me.

Morong Yom, 37, Fresno, CA

In 2016, I started using buspirone, oxcarbazepine, bupropion and olanzapine to treat my depression and anxiety, and to stabilize my mood. But it was especially important for me to take them in order to keep my mental health in check this year, during the pandemic. I was also afraid to go out with my family because of all the social unrest and people who didn’t believe in getting the vaccine. My medication helped me not think too much into it.

Paul Marlow, 36, Vancouver, BC

It’s clear to me that times may not get “normal” again and I wanted to find a way to adapt and grow. On top of the stress of the pandemic and all the social strife, I was also growing my mental health website, Never Alone. Microdosing mushrooms helped my day-to-day focus and mental strength.

When I get stressed, anxious, or depressed, it becomes 10x harder to “just do it.” This year, I was able to see what was going on around me, but I didn’t let it weigh on me in areas that need not be affected, like my ability to work and grow.

Zurlia Servellon, 28, digital nomad

Feeling the fear around me this year did make me anxious, but ayahuasca helped me understand that I needed to stop worrying about things that I cannot control.

It made me feel that I am the only person who is in control of my own reality, and every experience, person, or situation comes into our lives with a hidden lesson. However, if anyone wants to undergo a healing process with ayahuasca, I strongly recommend they do so with a well-trained facilitator.

Dana, 30, Los Angeles, CA

I used to think depression meant you were visibly sad, which I wasn’t. But it doesn’t always work like that. By the time my therapist talked me into trying Zoloft in late 2020, I really needed it. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and moved into my own place, and it was in the middle of COVID.

In 2021, we were still working from home. I was really alone. Not getting ready for work also affected me. When you’re sad, your hygiene goes down even more. It was like the perfect storm.

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Because Zoloft helped me accept everything in my current life, I feel more confident in myself than ever, and I’ve done phenomenal with work this year. I think there’s a perception out there that it makes you completely numb or lose your personality.

But I already wasn’t myself before. Zoloft didn’t change me into a different person. It changed me back to who I was.

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